The Weight of Struggle

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It was few minutes past 8pm when I boarded one of the loading vehicles for the night before drivers called it a day. I rode shotgun, squeezed between the driver and a middle-aged man. The engines kicked to life as the light overhead cast its dim glow.

“Your money please.”

Hands stretched forth clasping wazobia notes. I helped him collect the monies so his hands stay on the steering wheel.

“Sister, your money.”

He was referring to me. I took my first look at the inside of his cab. Layers of dust coated the dashboard. I suspected the dust on the fake brown fur placed just below the windscreen would choke the occupants of the car if anyone bothered dusting it off. The stereo system could barely be called that, considering all it sported was a gaping hole—a testament to a vehicle that once was. The only thing that appeared in fairly decent condition was the seats. But then, wasn’t that all we really needed in a vehicle anyway. Every other addition, from the stereo to the air conditioning was for comfort and another excuse to attach ridiculous price tags.

The car wheeled into a pothole and I braced myself for impact as the hand brake dug into my thigh.

“I should pay half the fare.” I’m not sure what response I expected. It had been a lousy day and even the best of the people in this State would have lost their quip.

“My sister, no vex. I get just 250 naira per drive and in a day I might go only three times.”
That’s an average of 750 naira per day’s work. Take the mandatory 50 naira ‘tax’ to the garage administrators per trip and the total take home pay drops to 600 naira. That’s less than $2 per day. His family lived in the outskirt of the city and he got to pay them a visit once a week.

“No money in this business at all. When I pay my debt, I’ll carry my car to another place.”

The journey from the bus stop to my home is about five minutes and within that time I reconsidered everything I’d thought about my life. Earlier in the day I’d done a bit of mental cataloguing and brain whipping. I needed to raise money for a certain project to kick-start the next phase of my life, but too many projects in the pipe tend to drain resources—including the emergency stash.

Helen Keller once talked about lacking shoes and realizing the next man had no feet. I have my reservations about this eternal wisdom because while it asks that we be grateful for what we have, it also attempts to diminish the weight of our struggle by drawing a rough comparison with the next man’s. I don’t have to wonder where my next pay check will come from. I’m neither in debt nor have family miles away depending on me for survival. However, I understand this struggle, not because I live that life, but because in my little world I feel hard pressed to make tough decisions and find solutions, too.

A few months ago I would have felt shame for feeling the way I did. Here I was without shoes staring at another without feet. But whether shoes or feet, our needs were different and not in any way diminished by their size. What mattered was the value we placed on them, not some invisible measuring line deciding if our struggle measured up to a community standard.

If I learned anything in that old beaten car, it is that to share in another’s story isn’t to make mine of worth; it is the understanding that struggle is universal, irrespective of our destination, that expresses true community.

 

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Wazobia—Nigerian slang for 50 naira note. Derives its name from the pictorial representations of the major ethnic groups. 

 

Your Story Doesn’t Count

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His was the only familiar face as I stepped into the bus. I made my way to his side—more leg space I told myself, but it was curiosity that propelled my feet. Then I spent the next minute stealing glances, willing my mind to connect the dots three weeks old.

We’d moved only ten minutes when he switched from the movie he’d been watching to hit up his friend on a social media channel. My waning curiosity piqued, searching for answers that eluded my mind.
Remember that babe I told you about that ran away with my money?
—Eh, you see am?
She’s beside me. She was looking at me when she came in like she couldn’t recognize me.
—Lol. Remind am na.
No. Leave am.
—If na me I go talk. I wan chop too.
No, it doesn’t matter.

My heart sank. This is the reason we must never eavesdrop on people’s conversations. I picked up my phone and told my friend what had happened, calling the young man beside me a jerk for his action. I could hear his laugh in my head.

It had been a mistake. Three weeks ago some driver with a temper gave four of us money to split among ourselves because he couldn’t be bothered to find loose change. That was difficult. I had custody of a boy’s change—a meager sum considering, but no less his. We spent the first few minutes looking for a means to split the money without succeeding because buses were going in different directions. Buses going my way were scarce, so as soon as one pulled over I was eager to jump in and get to work looking for change from other passengers. I succeeded. But when I looked out the window for my companions not one of them was in sight. When they eventually showed up, my call for attention was drowned by honking vehicles and the driver was already on his way.

Three weeks later I was beside one of them without a clue if he was the gentleman owed money or just one of the others. I contemplated raising it up and asking. It seemed awkward– for me. I figured I could pay his fare anyway and get the debt out of my system. But what if the real owner of the money meets me tomorrow? The stolen conversation set me straight, infuriated me, embarrassment burned my cheek. I turned to him willing myself to break the ice.

What’s the name of your movie?

He responded and asked if I wanted it. I nodded in the affirmative. We spent the rest of the journey pairing devices over Bluetooth, losing connection, sharing hotspot (his), searching for a quicker means to give me a movie I was half interested in watching. I watched him with curious eyes as he held my Tablet.

The driver requested for our money. I stilled his hand as it reached for his wallet.

Let me pay.

I didn’t think he was going to let me, so I pulled out twice the fare and handed it over to the collector. I glanced at my feet. Had he said thank you? Was that a smirk on his face when I touched his hand? Did he think I paid out of guilt or perhaps as payment for sharing his mobile data? Did he really believe I ran off with his money? Would he have thought that if I were a man? Was he simply a decent guy or living out the biblical mandate: pay back evil with good?

Was I over thinking this?

My eyes wandered to him again. He’d abandoned his movie and was trying to download a heavy file on my Tablet that would allow him send the movie faster—with his mobile data. None of this made any sense. He was a jerk, right? Why would he do any of this after obviously gloating to his friend an hour ago? A part of me wondered if he intended to run away with my Tablet when we arrive at our destination as revenge.

Finally the bus stopped and the passengers alighted. I got my Tablet back as we got off too. He asked for my destination and I responded. We stood in silence. My bus came, I turned to him, said goodbye with a half-smile. He smiled back.

Neither of us knew the other’s name. Neither asked what had happened that day. No story volunteered. It didn’t matter anyway. We each formed our opinions.

A Tale Of Bobby

He was virginal white, full of life and every bit active. I fell utterly in love the first day we met.

Aunt had just come home from a very busy day at work and we went out to welcome her and bring in the bags. I usually didn’t take part in the boot-clearing-bag-carrying ritual because the parents were the only ones older than I was. It was family tradition to leave work like this for the younger kids.

After a few minutes I came out to loud exclamations from the younger kids. They all stood gathered round an object, and were  obviously fascinated by what they saw. Curious, I took a few steps closer to see what had put the spark in their eyes… that was when I met him. Adorable, ginormous, probably obese creature. I named him Bobby.

Bobby like I mentioned earlier was full of life. He made himself quite comfortable at home. He knew all the entrances to the house, and would on certain occasions find his way into the store in the kitchen. I assumed he was pecking away at crumbs left by my feisty little cousin. Sometimes Bobby would strut into the living room clucking like he paid the rent and we were mere visitors. I remember fondly one such occasion.

PHCN had struck again in the early hours of the night and the living room was without a light source. Being quite comfortable in darkness and knowing like the back of my palm every nook of the house, I didn’t bother walking with one. I made my way to sit at the dinning table (which is my favourite spot) when I felt this cool rush of  breeze on my bare legs. I smiled in contentment thanking God for such small wonders (having the wind blow on your bare legs is an awesome feeling). This went on for a few minutes with only a brief intermittent pause before the next rush came, when suddenly something stabbed me on the foot. I yelled an ouch and jumped up from my very comfortable sit, when I heard what was unmistakably Bobby’s cluck. All these while he had been busy having the time of his life under the dinning table and apparently I was interrupting and crowding him. It would seem my brief cooling sensation was actually a ‘back off I got here first’ warning which I failed  to decode and so being what he was, he went violent. I flung open the door, and poked him with a cane till he found his way back out in the cold– after making me chase him round the sitting room.

That’s how comfortable Bobby made himself. He didn’t mind at all that he was actually an early Easter gift from a family friend, and that we were someday going to have to eat him. No, he didn’t mind at all. He just took control of his environment and the house. In fact he almost became a Dog. Whenever we left the gate carelessly open, he’d take a walk down the Close and still find his way back home for a drink of water and feed. We all loved Bobby.

Then came the day Aunty had to kill him. I begged and pleaded that Bobby’s life be spared. I forgot that he annoyed me consistently every morning when he would deliberately choose to make his morning cry below my window. I forgot that he would walk into the living room and leave his mark with that horrid stench. I forgot that I had the duty of feeding him every morning. I forgot all that, I just wanted Bobby to live. But Aunt wouldn’t hear of it. She chased him down– and he did try to escape, my obese friend– and caught him. She held him down with a foot on his wings, and the other on his bond feet. She pulled out the pristine white feathers on his long bulging neck with a knife she had carefully sharpened. Then she cut him. Bobby jerked, trying to suck in as much air as his severed wind pipe could hold. His blood spilled out on the pavement, rich in color and thick. The spot beneath his throat rose and fell as slowly life seeped out of him. Then it was over. Bobby was dead.

Aunt dipped him into a basin of steaming hot water and peeled off his feathers. Then she made me hold each piece of him as she cut off huge chunks of meat from that obese body. I stared in wonder. I had never seen such amount of meat come out of one creature. It was a good thing she didn’t make me cook him. I was feeling guilty enough that I let her kill him, and she made me hold his flesh for mutilatation.

In a few hours Bobby was ready. I wasn’t going to partake– No. I wasn’t going to betray what we had by joining in that unholy feast. I was going to stay true and mourn dear Bobby. But I was weak. The aroma from the  pot was too tempting. I resisted the urge for as long as I could, but my body and rumbling belly would have none of that. An hour later, I was cracking bones and sucking out marrows. Bobby was absolutely delicious.

We’ve had many come and go after Bobby. There was Hansel and Gretel– the twins, Rose– who ran away, Peter, Paul, Maryann and a lot more that I took no particular interest in. But none of them could ever match up to Bobby. Not in beauty, perfection, size, nor brains… and yes, let’s not forget taste.

In loving memory of Bobby– pal extraordinaire. Entertainer. Irritant. Pest. Food.

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This is an old photo of Bobby from 2010 when all the skill I had in photography was the combined effort of a 2MP mobile camera and bad lighting 😀 Goes without saying eh. Forgive the poor quality; had to dig into facebook archive to find it.

A Good Day For Change

First love yourself

My cousin Megan was the most annoying being my eleven years old self had encountered. At six she was a scrawny looking firecracker; at ten a full blown typhoon. Having spent a considerable part of my teenage years in a boarding school far from home, I had to make do with spending short holidays with my extended family. It was on one such visit that I met Megan in her glorious fury. Continue reading

Raluchukwu

No_title(144)[1]When you made your first million, the world rejoiced with you. You were in you mid-twenties and that was a huge achievement. Your mother was ecstatic,  now she could tie all the expensive wrappers to the next August meeting and climb the social ladder. You were not bothered, the woman had done so much for you and no amount of wrappers could equate that. Your only regret was that your father wasn’t here to celebrate this day with you. There were tales of his suffering from a mysterious sickness that defied medical attention. Your mother always seemed upset when you asked about him, what kind of things he liked to do, that eventually you stopped asking. Time and again, you would visit his grave at the back of the compound and talk about all you’d accomplished over a short time. Continue reading